BBC Music Magazine

Finzi • Vaughan Williams

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Vaughan Williams: Symphony

No. 5; Finzi: Clarinet Concerto Philharmon­ic Orchestra/

Michael Collins (clarinet)

BIS BIS-2367 (CD/SACD) 68:26 mins This rather unusual coupling owes its existence to a world-class clarinetti­st who over the past ten years has also been building a career as a conductor. Michael Collins has conducted several concerto recordings, including for other soloists, but this is his first of a symphony. Vaughan Williams’s Fifth, dedicated ‘without permission’ to Sibelius, reflects both the composer’s admiration for the great Finnish symphonist and above all his life-long love for John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, manifested in the Fifth Symphony’s rich cross-references to his own opera. Yet it is the parallels between Vaughan Williams and Sibelius, rather than the pilgrim’s journey to the Celestial City, which are foreground­ed in this confident, rather forthright account; the opening horn figure, written as a single phrase but articulate­d here as a two-note fanfare, instantly dispels the impression of a call heard from afar. So the performanc­e proceeds, beautifull­y played but not quite faithful even to the letter of Vaughan Williams’s score.

Finzi’s concerto presents a striking contrast – and in a good way. The Beethoven-like vigour of its bitter opening is particular­ly startling after the serene ending of the Vaughan Williams, and is effectivel­y countered by the lyricism of the soloist’s entry, which Collins gives an appropriat­ely sentient quality. The slow movement, its opening spellbindi­ngly rapt, is here an engrossing meditation rather than the vague ramble heard in other accounts; and the stoic quality of the upbeat finale is well captured. Altogether, this superb performanc­e will surely persuade those listeners generally unconvince­d by Finzi that he was far more than a purveyor of pastoral nostalgia. Daniel Jaffé

PERFORMANC­E ★★★★

RECORDING ★★★★★

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